Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mt. Tremblant: Our Fun Loving Aunt of the Nord

Officer:  “Do you have any alcohol, tobacco or firearms?” 
Justin: “No Sir.”
Officer: “Okay.  Have a good stay.”

I know for a fact that Justin had to pause and consider this question given his propensity to have one- if not all three- in his possession at any given moment.  But he was telling truth.  He knew the rules.  You don’t fuck with immigration.  Even friendly Canadian immigration.

And with that we were guests in the Great White North.   If America was our motherland, this was the land of our beer drinking, hockey playing, downhill skiing, snowmobile riding, hot aunt.  She was one of our best friends in that no-man’s land between 18 and 21 when caravans of testosterone soaked northern Vermonters- in the tradition of our bootlegging forefathers- snuck into Canada to take advantage of her lax attitudes toward juvenile inebriation.

This time our expedition had to do with perfectly legal, but far more rare (for this year anyway), fresh powder. White gold.  Snow.  Bone dry glades reminiscent of November’s stick season dominated the landscape in Northern New England.  And on-piste just wasn’t our schtick.  We craved glade.  We craved schwack.   It was late January and we were jonesing for a fix.  So we headed nord

Our last foray across the border- for our friend’s bachelor party- was greeted with a forty minute wait while the hottest border guard this side of Vancouver ran our backgrounds through whatever machination divines your intent.  Apparently, THIS time we were clear, and our breezy encounter lifted our spirits.  If only briefly.
Flat.  And wind-swept.

Even the wind-swept plains between the border and the mighty St. Lawrence looked dusty and bare.  Decrepit snow conditions added a new layer of depression onto the already haggard look of old farmhouses straggling the busy two lane road.  The meager snow pack even this far north vindicated our decision to skip the closer Bromont for our ultimate destination:  Mont Tremblant.

The ride across the Saint Lawrence was as beautiful as ever.  Darkness shrouded the bridge above a vast plain of ice where the lights of the city rolled down crowding the shore  from the hill above.   We arrived at our hotel in Chinatown, full of the excitement that the first evening of a trip evokes.  We rushed out to see the car show, in town for the weekend, before heading up the hill to Rue Ste. Catherine for dinner.  Our bellies full of poutine at the end of a long work week, we found ourselves without the motivation to stay out late.  Besides, reports of snow on the way demanded an early morning departure.  This was not a bachelor party.  This was a ski trip.

By eight o’clock the next morning we had rallied from our sleep and were on our way through the falling snow toward Tremblant.  Unfortunately, so was the rest of Montreal. The one and a half hour drive turned into a brutal three hour slog through stop and go traffic on increasingly dicey roads.  Having been so eager to leave that we skipped breakfast, a Tim Horton’s along the way was our salvation.  My limited French turned my “bagel and coffee” order into “blueberry donuts, and blueberry muffins- and coffee”.  Who knows, maybe I was being taught a lesson.  Or more likely, I took someone else’s order.  No matter, donuts are the breakfast of champions.  Especially when those donuts are filled with blueberries. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. 

I noticed as we slowly rolled North that around every corner was another ski hill.   The Quebecois apparently build ski hills like we build basketball courts.  And they were bustling with activity on this powder day.  As we grew closer to Tremblant the snowbanks grew higher and higher. And the snow continued to fall.

We have arrived.
When we finally arrived at Tremblant, it was all we could do not to roll the truck right up the mountain.  However, the lots were full and we had to hunt for parking.  We eventually found the Soleil lift, and within a matter of minutes we were parked, dressed, and riding the lift up from the parking area for our first turns of the day.

We explored the front side of the mountain pushing a few inches of fresh powder around on the groomers.  I was immediately impressed with the skill of the skiers around us.   Without exception, everyone’s bodies were pointed straight downhill, with no flailing arms, and no out of control turns.   Well, except for me.  
We eventually found our way to the Ryan Bas trail where we spotted untouched powder on a steep, wooded hillside running along the left side of the trail.  We dove into the woods following a hiking trail downward.  Mind you, this was no manicured and signed glade: it was pure north woods schwack.  Hardwoods towered above while the moosebrush occasionally raked at us.  We found stumps, crossed under widowmakers and dropped off of the occasional rock as we whooped and hollered like a band of marauding powder bandits.   We lapped the glade, pushing further left for steeper powder filled terrain, until the lifts stopped running.

In the schwack.

Our hotel, like most at Mt. Tremblant, was located at the base of the gondola surrounded by shops, restaurants and bars.  It is a compact, bustling village that resembles something you would see on a postcard from your jet setting Eurpoean friends.  Well, those that send postcards instead of posting to Facebook these days.  With the quaint European vibe comes the not so quaint European prices.  Even for this Bostonite, the food and beers  were pricey.  But if there’s a place that merits it. This would be it.

Venturing into the village.
We quickly dressed for dinner and headed up the hill through the gallery of shops and eateries.  And that’s when the drinking started.   Two, maybe three pitchers full of Canadian beer came and went during dinner.   I, being the only one of our crew under 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, put my head down and kept a low profile, while Justin and Jed did most of the heavy lifting.   After dinner we ambled our way back to the hotel for some hot-tubing.  

And that’s when the real drinking started.

I remember meeting some folks from Ontario, and some snowboarders, doing a few snow angels, and emptying my share of Molson Dry cans.  There was a beer run to the sundry shop, and a moment where I was suspended by my feet by my companions looking upwards at three smiling security guards. 

And then the screech of an alarm clock shattered the early morning silence.  I was alive, and in surprisingly good shape.   As I emptied a Nalgene full of water into my stomach I noticed Jed and Justin were looking pretty beat up. 

The thermometer read sixteen below zero.  Farenheit, that is.  We stumbled through the bitter cold air into the gondola for the ride to the top of the mountain.  I had the presence of mind on our beer run the night before to pick up a box of breakfast bars which we cautiously ate on the ride up- unsure whether it was a good idea to climb into such an enclosed space with strangers after our rough night. As we made our first runs down the Versant Nord, the cold snow was squeaky under our skis.  A cold sliver of air that made its way into my goggles quickly froze my eyelashes.

It had warmed up by noon.
The snowboarders from the night before had regaled us with stories of fantastic glades on the Versant Edge area of the mountain so we wasted no time looking for the fresh powder that had fallen over-night.   Sure enough, the glades that ran to the skier’s right of the lift were epic.   They were steep, evergreen stands that reminded me of old softwood glens I had seen in Utah.  After a couple runs down the front side, we ventured into the Emotion Glade.  This was the by far the best glade we had seen all weekend.   By this time, however, the powder had been slayed.  Despite the cold weather, folks were out in force.  So we jumped back over to the front side onto Ryan Bas for more laps in the off-map glade.

In the glades.

We were out in the shwack- out in the woods again.  We were forty year old teenagers.  The weight of our jobs, responsibilities and troubles were gone for a few hours:  a few childhood friends back with our fun loving aunt of the Nord.